Environmental AccountabilityMore than 100 rigorous environmental, cultural and historical conditions were demanded by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in the approval of the Thesen Islands development. One of the conditions of approval was the preparation of an Environmental Management Plan (EMP). The overall goal of the EMP was to guide the re-development of Thesen Island in a manner that would enhance, rather than be of detriment to, the Knysna estuarine environment on a sustainable basis.
The project provided a technical challenge in that, for the first time in South Africa and possibly the world, all salt marsh areas disturbed by the development had to be rehabilitated in such a manner as to ensure 'no nett loss of salt marsh'. Innovative engineering options were successfully researched and applied resulting in an overall increase in the salt marsh area. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) conducted sophisticated computer modelling to assist in the design and layout of the waterways. The various simulations derived an optimal layout allowing for excellent water circulation with sufficiently low velocities to allow marine life to flourish along the gabion embankments. In fact, contrary to some predictions, there has been an increase in the diversity of fauna and flora inhabiting the gabions with many resident sightings of the famous but endangered Knysna sea horse.
Currently, as part of the Co-ordinated Water Bird Count (CWAC), volunteer Thesen Islands residents do a bi-annual count on Thesen Islands. The data is sent to the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of Ornithology at the University of Cape Town where studies are conducted on migratory patterns and the influence of estate developments on resident bird populations.
In recognition of the scale and complexity of the environmental and other challenges addressed in the construction phase of the development, the South African Institute of Civil Engineering (SAICE) National Award for Technical Excellence in 2005 was presented to Thesen Islands.
Thesen Islands is a Blue Flag Marina
Thesen Islands was officially awarded Blue Flag Marina status on 8 October 2013 for the first time and every year subsequently, with the newest award received on 12 October 2018. The initiative was skilfully driven by then-TIHOA chairman Richard Wilkinson and the Blue Flag status embraces both the residential Marina and commercial Harbour Town. As of 2014, Thesen Islands is one of only five marinas in the entire country with this award. The others are the Royal Alfred Marina in Port Alfred, the False Bay Yacht Club and Granger Bay Water Club in Cape Town, and Yachtport in Saldanha. We’re proud to say ours is by far the largest and most complex of South Africa’s marinas.
It should be noted that on Thesen Islands, our blue flags fly proudly for a full year, from 1 November to end October of the following year, while the validity of the two neighbouring Blue Flag beaches, Brenton-on-Sea and Buffels Bay, spans only two months: December and January. The application for Blue Flag status needs to be renewed annually to ensure that all the strict environmental criteria are being honoured. As Thesen Islands falls within the Greater Garden Route National Park, we are fortunate to be able to work closely with SANParks, WESSA, Working for the Coast, NSRI and the Knysna municipality.
The Blue Flag concept originated in France in 1985, when municipalities along the coast were awarded with a flag for their commendable sewage treatment and swimming water quality. Then in 1987, which was nominated the European Year of the Environment, the Blue Flag concept was presented to the European Commission, and the formal programme was initiated. In 2001 it went global.
The Blue Flag symbol is considered by the World Tourism Organisation to be the most recognised and respected eco-label around the globe. It is not achieved easily; there are stringent requirements for the condition of our waters, the way we manage our environment, the level of safety and the services we offer, and the quality of environmental information we provide to our homeowners and the visiting public.
Be well assured that the high international standards set by the Blue Flag association have a tangible effect on property values. Public perception is influenced by quality facilities and good environmental management. And that’s spelled out by Thesen Islands’ healthy canals and marshes, superior ecosystem and public natural surroundings, functional and well-maintained safety measures, and quality educational information.
It is a proven fact: properties with Blue Flag accreditation increase in value by between 10 and 25% over five years.
Thesen Islands’ Blue Flag status means that the salt marshes and canals in and around the Marina and Harbour Town are clean, clear and pollution-free; first-aid kits, life buoys, fire hydrants/fire hose reels, bilge water and boat pumping facilities are all provided; and we have two Information Centres, one at the TIHOA Clubhouse, the other at the NSRI Alex Blaikie Museum, where marine-related brochures, pamphlets and illustrated signboards are posted. These focus on salt marshes and the plants and creatures they support, sea creatures, fish species and bird life, in addition to island and boating regulations. Brochures are also supplied at the Water Club.
If you are interested in following the quality of the water in the Knysna Estuary as a whole, water samples monitored by the Knysna Basin Project are taken monthly at various points of the estuary and are published in the Action Ads on the second Thursday of every month. Look for the Knysna Basin Project logo, featuring a seahorse and an image of the Knysna Estuary.
Individual and commercial boat owners can also apply for a Blue Flag logo to be displayed on their craft; a small fee is payable and applicants must conform to an environmental code of conduct. We strongly encourage all boat-owners to consider applying for this accreditation. The code of conduct focuses on issues such as using, wherever possible, environmentally-friendly products (i.e. paint, chemicals, anti-foulings, detergents) and responsibly handling bilge water and toxic waste (oil, used batteries, cleaning agents). Knowing the present sad state of our rivers and oceans, we as home-owners and residents would help enormously if we increased our own environmental awareness and tried to incorporate earth-friendly practices in our daily activities.
So let’s all be proud and honour our hard-earned Blue Flag status!
Thesen Islands Blue Flag matters are monitored and managed by the T.I. Blue Flag Environmental Committee, consisting of the following members:
Craig Smith (Chairman)